IT equipment needs to be replaced and updated after a while. It makes sense to replace it when it's no longer reliable, when requirements change, or when upgrading will give a big performance improvement at a reasonable cost. The decision, though, should be your company's and not the manufacturer's.

When the OEM issues an “end of life” or “end of service” notice, it has a psychological impact. It says that the product is outdated, obsolete, old stuff. It might make you think you have to replace the equipment. What it really means is that the OEM wants you to replace it with the new, improved product. It's a business decision; they'd rather make money from selling or leasing new equipment than from servicing a dwindling user base.

The third-party alternative

That doesn't mean it should be your business decision. If the hardware still works and meets your requirements, there's no urgency in replacing it. As long as you can keep supporting the equipment, you can keep it. The key is to find third-party support which is reliable and cost-effective.

End of life notices normally include a grace period. A company that cuts off support with no warning doesn't do its reputation any favors. When you get the notice, it's time to look into whether moving to third-party support makes sense. Starting the process when support ends is too late.

Even before that notice, other indicators provide warning. When a company stops selling a product, it may soon drop support. Look at the company's pattern with other products of the same type. What's their usual support lifespan? That's a strong clue to how long they will support the equipment you have.

Working with a company that provides extended support on a range of products is the best approach. Once you gain rapport with it, you know it's reliable, and you can talk with its representatives about supporting additional equipment. Having support contracts with too many companies makes it hard to know which one to call when a problem appears.

If you don't currently have satisfactory third-party support, or if the company you use doesn't work with the equipment you want to add, you'll need to find a service company that will meet your needs. Look for one with a good reputation and experience with the type of equipment you use.

Make sure the level of service the company offers is sufficient. Getting premium support is worth it if high service availability is critical. Consolidated, high-quality support simplifies the IT department's job and increases confidence that any problems will get fixed promptly.

When is upgrading better?

Obviously you can't hold on to equipment forever. There comes a point where no one is able to support it, or when the cost grows too high to justify it. There's a time when it's not compatible with current equipment or software. Eventually new hardware offers so much more that replacing it is plainly the better choice. But moving to third-party support can add years of life, so that you can focus on replacing what really needs replacement, when it does.

There's one major exception. If a device has security issues which the manufacturer is no longer addressing, there's little that a third partycan do. A Wi-Fi hub that doesn't support WPA is a security risk, and you can replace it cheaply. Windows XP was a great operating system in its time, but a computer that can't run anything more recent is at risk today. Don't try to stretch a device's life at the cost of essential security.

Generally, though, hardware can have a lot of life in it even after the manufacturer stops supporting it. With third-party support, the IT budget can be used for better things than unnecessary replacements.